Colbert savages Facebook over addition of 50+ new genders

We wrote the other day about Facebook’s new policy of giving people over 50 genders to choose from when filling out their profile on the social media service.

Facebook’s gender choices now include the traditional (male and female); a nod to the modern era (transgender, intersex); and several that were new to many folks (androgyne, bigender, and neutrois).

Well, Stephen Colbert took the topic on last night, and I have to say, he was quite brutal. And while that’s Colbert’s schtick, to be the crazy O’Reilly Republican, there was no silver lining to his attack on Facebook’s new gender policy – he was mocking it, and the audience was laughing at the “absurdity” of the policy as presented by Colbert.

colbert-facebook-gender

A lead trans activist, however, thought the segment rocked:

colbert facebook gender

This is the same trans activist who severely criticized CNN’s Piers Morgan a few weeks ago for basically doing a softball pro-trans interview, but getting some of the finer points of being transgender incorrect, such as not being aware that some trans people believe that at least some babies aren’t born with any gender at all.

And while I have little desire to revisit the Piers Morgan issue, as these topics tend to always devolve into a hate-fest among different factions of the left (and let’s not even talk about the right), I’m having a difficult time understanding how Colbert’s segment on Facebook was anything but nasty.  It mocked this new concept of gender, generally, and trans people in particular.

And while folks can claim that this is what Colbert does, there was no silver lining to many of the jokes. You don’t walk away feeling like Colbert secretly skewered people who oppose this new multi-gendered policy (though parts of the segment were pro-trans as well). Rather, you laugh hysterically at the alleged “absurdity” of the policy itself.  (The real “fun” starts about 50 seconds into the video, when Colbert basically mocks various trans identities.)

Which gets to my larger point, that it’s rather difficult to understand how to address this topic without offending someone, as the definition of what is right and what is wrong seems somewhat imprecise at best, and inscrutable at worst. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to understand the issue. It does, however, mean that critics aren’t helping their cause by exercising selective ire.


(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • Ricky Vaughn

    “I’m divided on whether his humor was acceptable”

    Spoken like a humorless neo-Stalinist.

  • Kathy11

    The silver lining was next having Janet Mock on to speak (in an authentic, yet tongue in check way) about this and other issues – including Piers. http://bit.ly/1jc2W5I

    Some humor, intelligence, authenticity & agency. And Colbert letting the mask slip slightly as he does occasionally.

    The difficulty some interviewers have been having is that the tone has changed from one of feeling one needs to be apologetic about ones being and hand hold cis people into accepting us to entering discussions from a position of normativity. It upsets their expectations. Gay people should understand this experience. Really – just about everyone should.

    We live in a world where most peoples great grandparents – or at least their grandparents have seen trans people on television – from back in the 50′s when the most famous out lgbt person was trans. People don’t need education that trans people exist. It’s time to move beyond sensationalism.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Exactly. Sometimes jokes go wrong, bad, just don’t work, regardless øf the intent.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Except that I did write the article anyway, so that totally contradicts the premise of your comment that I would thus cave and not write the article at all. :)

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    “If that offends you, so bad. Your weakness offended me, should you do something with that? Your choice, if I’m offended, duck me.”

    What does that mean?

  • IamOffended

    Dear writer of this article, I have but one issue with this post.

    “Which gets to my larger point, that it’s rather difficult to understand how to address this topic without offending someone-”

    This is a blog, on which you write YOUR thoughts and feelings. If those thoughts or feelings offend someone, that’s their issue. Being offended doesn’t give any rights or privileges. You’re weak for putting the easily offended masses infront of your own person. If that offends you, so bad. Your weakness offended me, should you do something with that? Your choice, if I’m offended, duck me.

  • Sweetie

    Queer is a slur, no matter how many ivory tower academics use it on book covers.

  • Sweetie

    South Park is supposed to be satire, too, but it has also been strongly homophobic in a self-serving manner — such as with the episode that portrayed gays as mentally ill pedophiles. People can give the satirical interpretation as an explanation, but it fails to address the bulk of the episode’s thrust — which was soundly negative.

    It’s easy to claim “it’s just a joke”, but sometimes it’s not.

  • trista niap

    My Uncle Gabriel got a stunning blue Dodge
    Charger SRT8 from only workin part time on a home pc… hop over to here C­a­s­h­D­u­t­i­e­s­.­ℂ­o­m

  • bens dad

    Piers Morgan does deserve some credit for doing a pretty good interview with Janet Mock, and she overreacted to the graphic that said she was a ‘boy until she was 18″. The graphic wasn’t ideal, but I don’t have any better ways to write a short chyron ID for her.
    At the same time, Colbert’s takedown of him in this piece is fabulous. He did come off self-pitying and ridiculously un-self aware.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    By breathing I’m mocking it. I think that’s your rule for anyone whose race, gender, or sexual orientation you don’t like – or who refuses to have an opinion that diverges even slightly from the borg – isn’t it? Attack, attack, attack, attack, attack.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Oh I have no problem talking about Piers Morgan. I’m just not sure starting the debate over again gets us very far. But it’s also hard to ignore, when Colbert says things far worse than Morgan did, and many of Colbert’s comment had no silver-lining of defending trans people – he was mocking them repeatedly.

  • MercedesAllen

    Colbert is satire. Part of his rant was to show that a number of the terms were permutations of the same roots, and while there are certainly new terms there, it undermines the “OMG 50 genders!” sensationalism that has accompanied this story (edit to clarify: in the media in general).

    To be fair, I was uncertain about this while I was watching it, too, but there is a reason why I’m fine with giving him a pass for the iffy moments (and much less so for Bill Maher, who made some of the same jokes that FOX commentators did): Colbert made the effort to learn more.

    And I believe that Janet saw that and for the same reason took it all in with grace and humour.

    Contrary to popular opinion in some circles, we’re not “just a bunch of screaming trannies,” and effort makes a tremendous difference.

  • KF

    Assigned is what’s generally used, but assumed would also be accurate. Basically, when you’re born doctors declare it’s a girl/boy based on what they see. What they think you are might not actually BE what you are.
    nicho is talking about polyamory (as opposed to monogamy). I think that’s more about relationship structure than a sexual orientation. The word “polysexual” is sort of a catch all for a bunch of different sexual orientations. Monosexuality is the attraction to one gender, and would group gay people with straight people. Polysexuality groups people who are attracted to multiple genders together. It’s just an umbrella term.

  • KF

    Except by putting genders in quotes aren’t you also mocking it? Just pick a side and stick with it.

  • KF

    Are we ignoring that Colbert is satire? I think that the initial bit was pretty screwed up, but Janet Mock got to set the record straight. She explained everything that needed explaining, and even covered non-binary identities. I don’t think she was interrupted either.

  • KF

    What happened to not bringing up Piers Morgan?

  • The_Fixer

    I am not really certain about what Colbert was poking fun at, or even attempting to. I can only suspect that he was poking fun of people who aren’t open to the idea of multiple gender descriptors, inflexible and uninformed people. You know, rednecks.

    I’m for people describing themselves whatever way they wish when it comes to gender. Makes no difference in my life. I would like it if, when asked to educate me about their chosen descriptor, that they not bite my head off about it. Most people don’t when you treat them with respect.

    If you look at gender on a scale between binaries (like the Kinsey scale of sexual orientation, an imperfect tool of classification), there are an infinite number of points along that scale (or at least damn near impossible to compute the number). Now change that to gender identification. Same deal, nearly infinite number of points along that scale. When you add people who are in transition between those two points, then you have an additional problems quantifying that. Adding agender people as part of the quantifying is tricky, they’re off that binary-based scale completely.

    The only problem that I can think of with Facebook having 50-some-odd different classifications is that some seem redundant. Perhaps someone could educate me on why some aren’t, but that’s the impression I get from looking at them with an open mind.

    In the end, it would be interesting to see how Facebook classifies that data – how they crunch it. My guess is that there may be less than 10 computer “compartments” that they are stuffed into for the purposes of serving ads for goods and services.

    In the end, if anybody has a complaint, it should be with Facebook. I don’t think this is much altruism at all. It serves their purposes rather well, and it gets additional information out of their seemingly captive-audience users.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Piers Morgan’s entire interview was silver lining, and he got skewered for not understanding whether a trans person is or isn’t a different gender at birth.

  • Suzy

    His Facebook rant was a lead-up to his guest, Janet Mock. Their discussion was the silver lining.

  • perljammer

    If you’ve spent much time at Americablog, you already know that ad hominem aimed at fellow posters doesn’t generally play very well. If you care about being taken seriously, please try to channel some of your obvious passion into civilized discussion instead of personal attacks; otherwise, you will just end up festooned with the insults you aim at others.

  • Indigo

    Mu!

  • Drew2u

    “In ancient times, courts employed fools and by the Middle Ages the
    jester was a familiar figure….Regarded as pets or mascots, they served
    not simply to amuse but to criticise their master or mistress and their
    guests. Queen Elizabeth
    (reigned 1558–1603) is said to have rebuked one of her fools for being
    insufficiently severe with her. Excessive behaviour, however, could lead
    to a fool being whipped, as Lear threatens to whip his fool”

    “Jesters could also give bad news to the King that no one else would dare
    deliver. The best example of this is in 1340, when the French fleet was
    destroyed at the Battle of Sluys by the English. Phillippe VI’s jester told him the English sailors “don’t even have the guts to jump into the water like our brave French.”

    Colbert proves the saying, “Suffer fools gladly” ;)
    (I was going to say, “Suffer the wisdom of fools” but I can’t find that as a quote anywhere. I swear it was a Shakespearian quote.)

  • Drew2u

    What I’m curious about is the usage of the phrase, “I was assigned [gender] at birth.” To me, it seems like the people of whom that statement is factual of are intersex persons; someone who is born with both sets of genitals – or someone who is born without any at all.

    I suppose with as nit-picky as I am, I would hope “assigned” would be “assumed”. A doctor or parent could take a look at their child’s genitals and assume from visual evidence the gender of their child, and with that, it does not take in account the psychological identity the child develops.

    Lastly, with someone born with extra, like the man with two penises, should/could he have his own gender identity, like: “super male” or “twice the man you are”?

    (And because I haven’t provided enough fodder for being flamed or downvoted a bazillion times) is ‘poly-’ an orientation? Isn’t it just g/l/b/t/a/s just with more than one person (all attraction counted for)?

  • nicho

    If you’re talking about gender, then there are two genders in which people present themselves — male and female. There may be some people transitioning between them, and so “trans” would be appropriate. Everything else is obfuscating gobbledygook and not enlightening at all. It hinders, rather than helps, communication.

    If we’re talking about sexual orientation, then there are some subtle differences. Some people are gay, some lesbian, some bi. Others may be polyamourous. And others may be asexual.

    Once you start drilling down farther than that, we’re into differences without distinctions. Total waste of time.

  • emjayay

    Really? With that avatar?

  • emjayay

    Calling someone who is no doubt not without flaws like anyone else a fool is uncalled for.
    On the other hand, I don’ expect mocking humor to be 100% perfect either, just mostly on point. And funny. Like this Colbert item.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    That’s the thing. I’m no friend to the notion that Facebook needs 54 genders, including 25 different ways to say “trans” because activists can’t agree on whether a man is a “man” or a “male.” That comes across as silly. But when I wrote about this, I was willing to publicly question the wisdom of having this many “genders,” but I still felt that mocking it was a bit nasty. And the irony is I would probably be excoriate for saying that I don’t buy there being 54 genders, while Colbert is lauded for outright mocking the idea :) I just find the contradiction interesting.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I’m divided on whether his humor was acceptable. It does remind me of Leno’s gay jokes, which might be funny, but at the same time are kind of anti-gay. Having said that, I think having 54 genders (I counted) is ludicrous. And I’m sure I’ll be excoriated by some for saying that. But when Colbert says it with humor, they adore him. Thus my point ;)

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    As always, I very much appreciate someone criticizing something I never said. Please re-read the piece and you’ll see that I was asking about the seeming contradiction/hypocrisfy of some activists. Having said that, even friends can say the wrong, and it’s fine to correct them nicely. But you don’t rip their jugulars out – which has been the point of my writing before, so on that account I’d agree with you.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I remember during the 70s and 80s how the gay and lesbian communities were in a great degree of flux and disagreement on the “proper” terms for homosexuality. The separatist lesbians objected to be being called ‘gay’, terming it a male-dominant definition. One person would say the inclusive term was ‘queer’ while another would object vehemently and call that word insulting. Somewhere along the way, ‘homosexual’ became a slur, but ‘heterosexual’ isn’t. When I first became acquainted with members of T* community in the mid to late 90s, I was told — by them — that the proper term was ‘transgendered’; then a few weeks ago, I was raked over the coals by someone who took offense with the “-ed” suffix.

    A big part of the problem right now is the T* community isn’t in agreement among themselves with what they wish to be called, and as happened with the gay and lesbian communities in past decades, each sub-category of gender expression and physiognomy seems fixated on separating themselves from every other sub-category.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Well, I never knew that ‘trans” was a “gender.” So I think a number of the options weren’t necessarily marked very well.

  • 2karmanot

    Bingo!

  • 2karmanot

    So if I suggested that Janet Mock is the Phyllis Schlafly of the non-cis nation would I have to get over myself?

  • Bob

    You’re a fool, sir. Colbert is one of the biggest allies on TV. No one is above the ability to be *kindly* mocked. Get over yourself.

  • dcinsider

    Let’s not lose our sense of humor. 51 different orientations is pretty damn funny. Most of them I have never heard of, and the need to drill down into whether or not people like peanut butter as an orientation seems like overkill to me.

    Colbert is simply recognizing how this LGBTQRSTUVWXYZ thing has gotten totally ridiculous, which it has. It should be laughed at and shame on anyone who can’t at least appreciate the humor in it.

    The quickest way we will lose hearts and minds is to lose our sense of humor first.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    Hence the ‘usually’ qualifier. I’m not really sure how to feel about this particular segment. I’m sure he meant well, and was more poking fun at the sheer number of options – but without even considering that the people who use those terms for themselves take it very seriously. I’m more offended by the fact that it is just another way for Facebook to absorb personal data about its users, and not really a good-faith effort of inclusivity on their part.

  • NCMan

    What I find amazing is that I haven’t seen anyone complain about Bill Maher’s treatment of this last Friday night in his monologue. He was confusing Facebook’s gender options with sexual orientation options as if he had no clue what he was talking about. He just wasn’t sure why they needed more “gender” options than gay, straight or bi. It was ridiculous.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Of course that’s what it is, but that doesn’t mean it truly is that, always. Some of his jokes were poking fun at people who don’t like trans people. Other jokes, a lot of them, were more the trans equivalent of f*g jokes. There was no underlying lesson of diversity and tolerance behind many of them. They were just trans jokes, that if anyone else had said, they’d be skewered.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    Colbert is usually not all that difficult to grasp; just assume he means the opposite of what he’s actually saying. His whole shtick is mocking the talking heads on certain channels that just spew nonsense, but as long as they say it with enthusiasm and sound absolutely sure of themselves, the ignorant sheep that watch them take their word as gospel.

  • Indigo

    Colbert’s humor, like British humour, does oft escape mine grasp.

  • LanceThruster

    I liked it. He treated Ms. Mock the same way he goes all of his guests. He was fun and playful (she looked as if she was thoroughly enjoying herself) and asked legitimate questions about trying to understand he various responses and reactions that any individual can have to this uncharted (for most of us) territory.

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